Category Archive: Wine Education

Educating Managers About Wine is Not Done in a Classroom

Posted on March 27, 2014

Educating Managers

The past 8 months I have blogged less and worked more.   My new job has taken me away from the floor and working behind the scenes setting up beverage programs, writing cocktail and wine lists, training staffs and running special events.   No longer am I coming home, still buzzing from the night’s craziness and needing to release creative energy.  Now I get home exhausted from the day.  I am always trying to be creative at work by trying to find the next thing, do the best event or educate staffs of all levels.  Let me focus on the latter.  I remember some of my first posts were about the challenges I met in educating servers.  I feel that now that I am not with them on the floor on a regular basis, educating has become easier because I only see them when I give a class.  My concern is, are they really taking what they learn and using it on the floor, or is it going in one ear and out the other?

I guess I cannot really answer that question without physically working side by side with them.  I can send in secret shoppers, but I think that stinks.  I found a better way.  I now focus on educating managers.  If I can get the managers to have a passion for beer, wine and spirits this will transcend to the servers.  I started holding wine classes for managers that want to learn more about wine but do not feel comfortable learning along side their employees.  This allows them to ask all the questions they want without feeling like they might sound dumb.  However, managers work a lot.  It is hard for them to get away and take part in wine classes.  But since they work so much, a paid vacation to wine country is exactly what they need.

This past Monday and Tuesday I took 8 of my managers to Sonoma to visit Landmark Winery, Lancaster, Chalk Hill and Russian River Brewing company.  As you could imagine, they had a great time.  For many it was the first time in a vineyard.  They got to walk through cellars and wine making facilities, taste from barrels and enjoy a blending seminar.  We squeezed so much into those two days and we still managed to tie one on somewhere in between.

We started at Landmark vineyards where they learned about organic farming from winemaker Greg Stach.  He took us through a tour of the wine making facility and the barrel room.   Once the tour ended, we played Bocci ball as we waited for the blending seminar to start.   At the seminar we were to blend 4 different vineyards sites to see how close we can come to make a wine that was similar to the Overlook Pinot Noir.  One of our managers decided to take a short cut and used the Overlook as they main part of  her blend.  Not fair!

We later went to dinner to a local whiskey bar, Jack and Tony’s.  Dinner was great and the whiskey even better.  After dinner we strolled over to Russian River Brewing Company, one of America’s best breweries.  There I find Chuck with 5 beers in front of him, and they are all Belgians and Sours.  A true wine guy goes for Belgian’s and Sours…but 5 at once, that is crazy.  I also learned that our well-mannered management team has “hoo-hoo-hooters” among them.  I was pretty embarrassed to hear them as they walked into the bar hooting; but hey, we they were just having fun.

The next morning we got up bright and early and headed back into our limo bus to visit Lancaster.  The windy roads put some of the team to the test.  We immediately found out who had drunk past their limit the night before.  Luckily we made it to Lancaster.  The property was beautiful.  The winery is built into the mountainside and the vineyards were very well-managed.  We all actually really enjoyed the wines, that says a lot especially when everyone was pretty hung over.  The best remedy is more wine.  Most of the team enjoyed the Roth Heritage red blend.  I liked the Lancaster ’08, rounded and delicious.

We then headed back through the Russian River to Chalk Hill, an equally beautiful property.  I wish I was not married, I would have liked to have a re-do and have my wedding there.  I guess it’s better this way, I really don’t have $100,000 to spend.  We were greeted by Erica, our private Sommelier.  She tasted us on the Sebastani wines and served us a three course lunch.  The Chef, Didier, prepared a delicious meal.  The lamb was out of this world and each course was paired perfectly by Erica.  During our meal we got to talking about wine and restaurant stories.  I think this is the best wine education I can give the managers.  We shared stories and discussed our concerns.  We laughed, tasted wines and by the end of lunch everyone learned something new.  Educating managers is not always giving a seminar and tasting flights of wine, but just sitting and talking.  I know that when I taste on Mondays with other San Diego Sommeliers, the best part is before we taste, we discuss our week and things going on in our restaurants.

Being able to bring the managers to Sonoma  was a good way for them to learn more about wine.  The tours, the tastings and the winemaker’s presentation was beneficial.  However, getting them out of the restaurant and with their peers was even more educational.  Everyone learned from each other.  I hope that they take this knowledge and infect their staffs with it.  Make it so contagious that they want to learn more about their profession.  I had an amazing time with my team and I hope to do it again very soon.

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A Brief History About Wine in San Diego

Posted on February 27, 2014

A view from newly planted mountain vineyards in San Diego

Thank you to the fabulous wine makers that attend the first San Diego County wine forum for Prime Cru.  Chris Broomell of Vesper Vineyards, Jeff Bowman of the screaming Chief, Mick Dragoo of Belle Marie and Justin Mund from Orfila Vineyards contributed their insights into the history of wine in San Diego and its future.  These brave men were bombarded with questions from yours truly, and not one of them caved. All men were confident to answer questions that might have put other wine makers in compromising situations. Not one of them plead the 5th.

Prime Cru hosted two events, one on Saturday afternoon at Island Prime restaurant and last night at Vintana Wine & Dine which sold out to about 100 interested San Diegans. Mostly everyone was surprised to hear about the rich wine history of our little beach city. Many people know that the Wine Spectator started on the streets of OB, but most never knew that San Diego was producing wine well before Sonoma and Napa. So what happened? Why did we get left behind? Is our climate not conducive to growing grapes for wine? Did we have a lack of talented wine makers? I addressed a lot of these questions during the forum, however I think I should touch on a few now that the video does not.

First of all, our climate is perfect for grape growing. The thing is that we have to grow the right grapes. The biggest misconception is that Temecula and San Diego are one in the same, and that is not the case. San Diego has more varying climate, soil and altitude than Temecula.  It is 10 degrees cooler. So no, we are not one in the same. The reason that San Diego got left behind is a complex answer.  I will try to explain it as simple as possible.  First of all, San Diego County is so spread out.  Temecula, Sonoma, Napa all have wine trails where the wineries are lined up along a road.  In San Diego we have wineries in Ramona, Escondido, Jamul and Julian.  We are talking about areas that are 40-50 miles apart from each other.

Secondly, wine in San Diego was a thriving business prior to prohibition.  However, we did not have a gold rush which dumped money into our industry.  Our wineries sold in bulk to retailers downtown who would bottle the wines for patrons.  The majority of their business was selling barrels to the public.  Those wineries that lasted through prohibition had a hard time succeeding afterwards because there were laws passed which did not allow the selling of bulk wine to consumers.  Wines had to be bottled, something our wineries did not have the infrastructure to do.  Also, during prohibition we lost serious wine drinkers.  The age of coca cola and cocktails created a wine drinker looking for sweet sugary wines.  Wine makers did not have a public that was looking for dry serious wines.

As history wrote itself, San Diego got left behind.  I believe that we have promise here.  All it takes is more investment in vineyards, wine makers that want to make clean wines and a public that is willing to try something new. For those that could not attend and did not read my earlier post, I made a video which briefly gives you an insight into wine in San Diego.  If you would like to attend one of the seminars in the future, sign up for Prime Cru and be the first to receive an invite. Cheers!

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America’s Finest City’s Wine History

Posted on February 15, 2014
San Diego Old Town

San Diego: courtesy of

Most people believe the wine history of California started in Sonoma and Napa.  When people think of San Diego, fine wine is not even a thought.  San Diego is a tourist destination known for its warm weather, beautiful beaches, Sea World, the world-famous Zoo and Old Town.  More recently, San Diego has made a name for itself  as a beer town. We have over 89 breweries with a gross revenue of $500,000,000.  More and more restaurants are opening and we are starting to get an influx of nationally recognized chefs such as Mario Batali, Bradley Ogden and Richard Blaise to name a few.  But what about San Diego wine?  We have many wineries here and if we throw Temecula into the mix, the Southcoast AVA is growing very rapidly.  I wanted to explore San Diego wine a bit more in-depth so I decide to reach out to some of the local wine makers.  This coming week I am hosting a wine summit featuring 4 wine makers from San Diego.  During the summit I will host Mick Dragoo of Belle Marie, Jeff Bowman of Screaming Chief, Chris Broomell of Vesper Vineyards and Justin Mund from Orfila.  We will learn more about San Diego has an up and coming region and taste 10 of their wines.  For more info and to buy tickets visit my earlier post.

I visited with these wine makers over the past several weeks.  I tasted their wines, toured their cellars and visited some of their vineyards planted in San Diego County.  During these visits I got to talking to them and I realized that San Diego’s fine wine history is rich and long.  While visiting with Mick Dragoo, who has made wine since the 70’s he mentioned that San Diego was producing wine well before Sonoma.  He said that Jarvis Winery in Napa has an old barrel from 1850’s which once held San Diego wine.  This peaked my interest even more.

I then paid a visit to Chris Broomell and his wife Alysha at Vesper Vineyards.  We got to talking about San Diego fine wine history and Alysha pulled out a paper written by Richard Carrico a professor at SDSU.  Alysha said it was his master thesis.  The paper took a close look at the fine wine history of San Diego.  It really blew my mind.  I am a sommelier, a native of San Diego, I live in a house overlooking Old Town and I never knew how important San Diego was to the fine wine history of California.  Everything I ever read about California wine merely credits San Diego with the first mission to plant grapes.  And that is it!  After looking at Richard’s paper I realized that there was so much more.   So I have taken the liberty of plagiarizing and presenting you Richard’s history of San Diego wine in a quick and simple time line.  Enjoy!


Mission Alcala

San Diego Mission Alcala

    • The Mission grape came from the Canary Islands a cousin of Pais, Grillo and Listan Prieto, It was planted in Mexico, Baja California and San Diego (Alta California).
    • Grapes came by way of Baja California brought by Franciscan monks as they built missions.

1781-82:  Wines were made in San Diego almost 100 years before anywhere near San Francisco.

    • San Diego Mission Alcala became known for producing wines, so much so that the Spanish Governor of California sent bottles of San Diego wine to Spain to show off the quality of wine coming from the colonies.

      General Kearny

      General Kearny

1830’s: Mexican ranchers provided brandy for the sick and wounded soldiers of General Stephen Watts Kearny in San Pascual Valley

Jean Louis Vignes

Jean Louis Vignes: the true father of California wine in Los Angeles

1835: Jean Louis Vignes, French immigrant built Aliso Winery in Los Angeles

      • Famous for producing “Angelica” named after its place of origin, a sweet fortified wine aged for 8 years in oak.
      • Was producing 16,000 cases from Cucamonga Valley.
Agoston Haraszthy

Agoston Haraszthy: San Diego Sheriff founded Buena Vista winery in Sonoma

1860’s:  San Diego Sheriff, Agoston Harazthy brought grapes from Europe to California.  depending on who you ask, is credited as the father of California wine.

      • Harazthy planted in Mission Valley where it was all farm land.  There was too much water there and grapes did awful. Moved to Sonoma.
      • Harazthy moved to Sonoma and opened the first winery in North California, Buena Vista. 1852


  • Eastcoast wine drinkers were not into San Diego wines because the Mission Grape produced light bodied wines with little structure.
  • SD made up 6 acres of the total, by 1910 SD produced 5,000 acres. Not all for wine.

    Maxcy's Vineyard Ranch

    Maxcy’s Vineyard Ranch: courtesy of Eloise Perkins

1851:  Asher E. Maxcy moved to SD and built the First Commercial winery in SD was “Vineyard Ranch & Winery” in Bear Valley now known as Valley Center.

  • His wine maker was Pierre Hagata who came to SD from France in 1873.
  • 1879 it was reported that Maxcy had produced 1600 gallons of wine.
rancho Santa Margarita

Rancho Santo Margarita: courtesy of Richard Carrico

1856: San Diego was lumped into the region of LA, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo. together  they produced 54% of California grape production.

1864:  Juan Forester at Rancho Santa Margarita, an Englishman who controlled National City and Rancho San Felipe.

  • First vineyards of Rancho Margarita were planted by Franciscan priests in 1789.
  • Produced about 1,200 gallons
  • Today it is part of Camp Pendelton
Otay Valley

Otay Valley: courtesy of

1878: Emanuel Daneri and Italian immigrant built a massive winery, ‘The Daneri Winery in Otay valley”. One of the largest, and most well-known.

  • He built the winery underground
  • Produced 20,000 gallons.
  • Bought a retail shop downtown and advertised free samples of wine.
  • Tasting room and hospitality
  • 1916 the Otay dam broke causing a massive flood which destroyed the winery and vineyards, killing workers and destroying wine. He never rebuilt.
Jules Delpy

Jules Delpy: courtesy of

1884:  Jules Jaques Delpy, newphew of French Immigrant, Bernard Delpy began wine making in Vista, The Delpy Winery.

  • Imported Spanish oak for aging and used redwood for fermenting
  • Winery burned down in 1902 and rebuilt in 1903
  • Pierre Hagata from Maxcy’s Vineyards helped make the wines
  • Court battle of selling wine, changed law that vineyard owners were not required to have a liquor license to sell own product
  • Prior to prohibition they produced 200,000 gallons/year
  • Before Prohibition he leased his winery to wine makers from Northern California
  • After Prohibition in 1934, Jules began to make wine again, 150,000 gallons
monte vino

Monte Vino in Alpine: courtesy of

1885:  George Phillip Brabazon Irish immigrant purchased property in Alpine, Monte Vino

  • Used Zinfandel brought from Spain
  • Hired Indians to stomp barefoot which neighbors did not like. In 1901-08 he sent 30 Gallons to England.
  • Planted 1400 ft Monte Vino and sold for 2 to 3 times the price of others

1886: Grapes planted in San Diego were: Carignan, Mataro, Mission, Grenache & Zinfandel

    • Carignane was planted all over California. Was blended with Gamay to create the Olmo Grape or better known as “Ruby Cab” to make bulk wine in central valley
Ferrara Winery

Ferrara Winery: courtesy of

  • 1919:  George Ferrara Oldest continuously operating winery, The Ferrara Winery.
    • During prohibition sold grapes for home wine makers and communion
    • Closed in 2011

    Bernardo Winery

    Bernardo Winery: courtesy of

1927:  Vincenzo Rizzo immigrants from Italy, began making wine in Rancho San Bernardo. Vineyards there were planted by Sicilians 40 yrs earlier. The Bernardo Winery is still making wine today and is San Diego’s Oldest Winery.

By early 1900’s: Escondido, Ramona, Witch Creek, Poway, Julian, San Marcos, Poway, Ballena Valley were all producing in North County

 Wine Shops in San Diego

San Diego wine shops

S.W. Craigue advertizement: Courtesy of Richard Carrico

    • S.W. Craigue & Co. was selling SD wine and called it “California Wines made a Specialty”
    • San Diego downtown had wine shops selling wine in bulk
    • Most wineries did not bottle and sold casks to wine shops to bottle
    • Mark up was double, 750ml = 1 hr of labor
    • GOLD RUSH sent many people to Northern California.  More consumers for wine led to large wineries and estates.  Since they has the infrastructure to bottle, Sonoma wineries could send to consumers
    • In San Diego, wineries were smaller and you have to go to the shop or bring in your growler or buy by the barrel.
    • Sonoma wineries began to market their wines with names referring to the Old World using words such as “Burgundy” “Claret”
    • Aged vintages from Sonoma were marketed to upper class in SD
    • Wines began getting popularity and quality in San Diego improved. But in 1920 Prohibition changed everything.  Wine makers sold their grapes for communion and to home wine makers.  Many wineries closed.

1934:  SD had 10 wineries.  Baja wineries were buying SD grapes to make wine. L. A. Cetto and Santo Thomas

1930’s-40’s:  World War II

  • Land was used to grow crops for the war effort
  • Law passed in 1943 prohibiting the sale of bulk wine (bad for AD, since most sales were by the barrel)
  • This raised the price of wine.
  • Machinery was now needed in wineries
  • Post Prohibition generation lost connection with wine, how it was made and the family’s ties to the old world. Wine quality suffered.
  • Yellow fizzy beer, hard liquor cocktails and Coca Cola became drinks of the time. People were not used to drinking alcohol.
  • 2 types of wine: jug wine and aged fine wine. SD did not fit into either category.
  • Grape growing in SD increased, however quality decreased since SD stopped producing fine wines.  The demand was for sweet easy to drink wines.

1964: SD only had a few wineries Brookside, Bernardo and Ferrara.

Cilurzo Winery

Cilurzo Winery: courtesy of

1968: Vince and Audrey Cilurzo planted 1st commercial winery in Temecula.  Wineries that followed were Callaway (the 1st bonded winery), Mount Palomar, Filsinger and Hart
1975:  88 acres, 1980 = 225 acres, 2008 = 500 acres.
1976:  The Wine Spectator started on the streets of OB by Bob Morrissey

Today’s Reputable Wineries

San Pascual Valley is now known for vineyards which started with Jaeger, San Pascual and now Orfila.

Ramona has the most vineyards in San Diego just a few are Scheasdall, Chinook, Mahogany Ranch, Pamo Valley,  Milagro Farms (Jim Hart)

Julian has Menghini, Witch Creek, &  Carossa

Warner has Shadow Mountain,  J. Jenkins and until 2011 Ferrara Winery.

Escondido has Belle Marie, Triple B Ranches, and Vesper Vineyards

San Diego Urban Wineries Vinavanti & Stehleon are just a few.


winemakers of San Diego



How Are Oak Barrels Made?

Posted on August 23, 2013

Oak Barrel Making

Have you ever wondered how oak barrels are made?  When I go to wineries and see rows and rows of oak barrels I can’t help but wonder, “where did they get all this wood from?  How did they form them out of wood?  Why don’t they leak?  There aren’t any nails or glue, how did they get put together?”  When you see the video below, you’ll see human ingenuity at its best.

A few weeks ago the people at Jordan Winery invited a handful of wine buyers and sommeliers to visit the winery.  Yes, we were wined and dined and treated like kings.  But with all that, what stood out the most was the trip they set up for us at Tonnellerie Francaise Nadalie in Calistoga.  Nadalie has a long history in France for making high quality French barrels.  In 1980 they brought French barrel making techniques to Calistoga.  Instead of making French oak barrels, they only made American oak barrels in America.  They own and run Megnin Mills in Pennsylvania.  Megnin Mills provides most of the oak used at Nadalie.  It is a serious business!  It takes about 200 years for an oak tree to mature enough for barrel making.  It is hard to fathom and I still cannot wrap my head around it.

Some wineries will actually pick the specific tree they want for their barrels.  Nadalie brings the oak from the mill and process the barrels in Calistoga.  The team of workers have been together for years which makes the factory run like clockwork.  Their goal is to produce 55 barrels a day.  Although Nadalie uses machines to make the oak barrels, there is still a lot of skilled labor and craftsmanship involved.  In order to keep the barrel making process moving, each person has to be on point.

This is a job that involves a lot of hard labor and repetition.  The workers fall into a rhythm and fall into some sort of zen-like state.  Their pride in their work is clear and it is that pride that allows for such high quality workmanship.  The short video below will take you through the oak barrel making process.  I hope you enjoy it.


Want to learn about Riesling? The Riesling Seminar

Posted on August 3, 2013

Riesling Seminar
riesling seminar

In support of the Summer of Riesling 2013 I created a Riesling seminar for those that want to learn about Riesling. It discusses Riesling throughout the world. We offered this seminar for our Prime Cru members and our staff. The turn out was not the greatest, for some reason people still do not understand Riesling. However, those that were in attendance have a better appreciation for the under rated grape. One at a time we will change people’s perception of Riesling as being only a sweet wine. Those that did attend were excited to learn about Riesling and all its diversity.

Although I did not go into detail about Riesling from Canada, Washington State, Oregon, New Zealand or Chile; these regions should also be on your radar for Riesling. Master sommeliers all vow their love for Riesling because it makes them look good when they pair wine and food. It is one of the few grapes that expresses razor edge acidity along with a pleasant electrifying fruitiness. It brings two of the most desired characteristics of wine into one glass. For this reason you see Riesling all over Michelin star restaurants’ tasting menus.

Riesling is the most understood grape. Even in its homeland of Germany, the grape has been deemed as merely a sweet wine. It might be a result of marketing the Blue Nun label all over the world, however; that is a wine of the past. Today more and more people are becoming familiar with the different levels of sweetness. For those wine drinkers who enjoy drinking Burgundy and all its primer crus, you need to try Chartas from the Rheingau, Grosses Gewachs from the Mosel and Erest Lages from Rheinhessen. Riesling is diverse and complex. It is not your grandmas wine any more.

I hope you enjoy the Riesling seminar and drink more Riesling!

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